Fringe returned from a three-week break with a powerful, suspenseful and surprising new episode. “The Human Kind” was masterfully plotted and intense, and it was loaded with promising new developments and reveals that had me wishing the show could last another few seasons.
With this episode, Fringe turned what could have been a clichéd, eye roll-worthy battle between human emotion and cold logic into an incredibly engaging and emotional hour of television. Seeing Olivia convince Peter to remove the Observer tech from his head and, hopefully, return to his former self probably wasn’t what most viewers were clamoring for – at least not this early in the game – but watching Peter rip the pin out of his neck, inspired by a flood of memories and feelings, packed one hell of an emotional wallop.
We’ve all been waiting to see Olivia to step up this season, and while she didn’t use her Cortexiphan abilities in this episode, I was still pleased to see her outwit her captors and take charge of restoring Peter after Walter’s efforts failed. It was nice to see the two best versions of Olivia Dunham -- badass FBI agent and Fringe Division’s moral and emotional center – resurface here. And even though Olivia was feeling and acting more like a cynic than a believer (I’m talking about her final chat with Simone (Jill Scott) here), she seemed willing to believe in the power of faith and, to a certain degree, mysticism by the end of the episode.
I mention mysticism because, while the show’s “Fringe events” and seemingly unexplainable occurrences are usually rooted in science, Fringe began hinting at something more mystical bubbling beneath the surface of everything in this episode with Simone, a woman gifted with prophetic visions that seemed more rooted in emotion and faith than math or science. Actually, Fringe arguably went mystical back in season 4, when Peter was seemingly pulled back in to existence by the power of love instead of science or technology. Merging mystical elements with science fiction can be a tricky thing to do (as most of us saw with ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and several other great sci-fi series), but I’m willing to bet that Fringe will be one of the few shows that can pull it off. I doubt the show will rely on some kind unearned, phony “magic hand of God” type development to tie a bow around everything in its final hour. And even if went that route, I’m sure it would still be pretty great. I mean, it’s Fringe, right? Even if they don’t exactly stick the landing, the final hours of this show are still gonna be worth watching, and they’re probably gonna be more interesting and compelling than any other finale airing next year.
OK, back to “The Human Kind” … I enjoyed the mental and physical battle between Peter and Windmark in the first half of the episode. Who knew watching Joshua Jackson lurk and stalk could be so compelling? Peter’s one-man war with Windmark led to a fun Nightcralwer-style brawl with the Baldy who murdered his daughter. But Windmark, who relies more on logic and probabilities than emotion, made a fatal flaw in showing Peter the final thoughts Etta had before she died. Seconds before being murdered by Windmark, Etta thought of her mother and father on the day the Observers attacked -- her last happy day. The vision only hardened Peter’s determination to get even with Windmark, and it was part of the emotional memory stream that finally brought him back to humanity in the episode’s closing moments.
There were some great Peter-Walter moments in this episode. Early on, Peter turned his back on Walter, who wanted to examine his son and save him from losing his humanity. Here Walter reminded Peter of the promise he made a few episodes ago to keep Walter from slipping, or becoming the cold and calculating man who never let anything, including family, get in the way of his ambition as a scientist. Peter ignored Walter’s plea and continued with his plan to murder Windmark. Later, when Peter arrived at the lab for a patch up, Walter attempted to convince his son to remove the Observer tech because it was sacrificing the parts of the brain that relate to emotion in favor of parts that process logic. This was a great scene with Peter trying to appeal to Walter’s worst aspects – the hard-hearted scientist who would stop at nothing to test the limits of the human brain -- in order to justify his plan. Walter seemed horrified by this, like he was looking into a mirror and seeing the dangerous man he once was staring back at him. And, in a way, he was. Peter was potentially sacrificing his emotional memory and humanity in favor of becoming an unstoppable brainiac with the ability to do amazing things with his disciplined mind. This sort of thing would have appealed to the old Walter who broke the universe, but it only saddened and frightened season 5 Walter, a man who has seen too much pain and destruction caused by the exploits of men seeking the ultimate in scientific discovery.
Walter couldn’t convince Peter to choose humanity over vengeance/logic, but Olivia succeeded where Walter failed. The power of love saved Peter again; only this time it inspired him to cling to his family and humanity instead of magically willing him into existence. And while the prospect of seeing Peter slip further and further into Observer mode was exciting, it felt rewarding to see him reverse course when confronted with the idea that he could forget the importance of everything he was fighting for – his friends, family and, of course, the very essence of humanity.
Peter pulled the plug here, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of the Peter-Observer arc. His experience as an Observer-fied human is bound to come in to play again before the show comes to a close.